2021 Rural Policy Action Report

In 2021, Rural Democracy Initiative, Farm Action, and ruralorganizing.org organized and co-hosted a Rural Policy Summit. Rural advocates from across policy sectors and around the country shared their rural experiences. Indigenous organizers, health care advocates organizing in mountain communities, Midwestern family farm advocates and rural educators, farmworker advocates, and rural Black leaders from the South discussed key challenges and their policy priorities.

The key findings from the Rural Policy Summit were published as the Rural Policy Action Report, which outlines many of the most significant and urgent challenges facing rural communities. The report makes recommendations for federal policy across a broad range of issue priorities. These are practical positions for advocates, policymakers, and funders to take immediate action.

The Rural Policy Action Report was widely publicized and shared with policymakers, elected officials, and key decisionmakers in the Biden administration. Many of its key recommendations were adopted in 2021 and are already making a significant impact on people’s lives. The American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act both funded key programs for rural public health, economic recovery, and job growth. President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy calls for new and better rules that will directly impact rural communities, including to lower prescription drug prices, increase wages, expand internet access, and establish the “right to repair,” which authorizes people to fix their equipment and property themselves rather than going to a licensed agent.

The Blueprint for Rural Policy Action in the States serves as an addendum to the 2021 federally focused Rural Policy Action Report. Building on the original report’s key priorities and challenges, this report provides detailed research on many issues facing rural regions and offers examples of strategic and popular policies introduced and enacted to address these issues in states around the country.

Uniting for Our Mutual Benefit

We all want opportunities for good jobs, a healthy and safe place to live, and the freedom to participate in our community. Regardless of where we live or what we look like, we want to take care of ourselves, our families, and our community.

But today, some politicians and their corporate donors profit by dividing us. They try to make us fear each other so we won’t come together to demand investment in rural communities, livable communities, and the prioritization of working people. We need to go all in for all of us, joining together with people from all walks of life to make a better future for us all.

The Importance of Being Race-Forward with Rural Communities

To build power rather than turning against each other, we must approach our organizing in all communities by leading with shared values and being explicit that we stand for racial justice.

A common narrative among progressives holds that rural communities are all-white, conservative, and likely ignorant and racist as well – and thus that they are not worth engaging on progressive ideas. This is a false and dangerous story.

The reality is much more complex.

According to the 2020 census, one in four rural Americans is Black, Indigenous, or Latinx.[1] In some areas, rural communities are growing and thriving solely because of immigrants, as jobs in meatpacking plants or oil fields bring new arrivals from Latin America, Asia, or Africa who then settle and raise families.

Majority-white rural communities have been hit hard by corporate consolidation, growth of corporate power, and extreme income inequality, all facilitated by federal and state laws. Many small businesses, jobs, and resources have left rural areas, replaced by consolidated and mechanized businesses whose profits accrue to far-off corporate headquarters. Many white rural residents have become frustrated and disillusioned as they have watched their communities suffer in response to long-term divestment in rural vitality.

The abandonment of rural communities by the progressive movement is harmful to all of these communities. The absence of a progressive, race-forward analysis has left an ever-widening opening for racist ideas and analysis that blames immigrants, people of color, and non-Christian religions for the problems facing rural communities – rather than blaming a system that values corporate profits over local communities. As we have seen in recent years, these ideas can lead to very real intimidation and violence. They also distract from addressing the real issues.

Thriving communities, a healthy environment, and a strong democracy are for everyone – and we need everyone in order to get there. To truly include everyone, we must support antiracist education and analysis; create opportunities to build relationships across differences; show up and stand with allies when they are under attack, especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); and organize in support of and together with multiracial movements.[2]

[1] Moodie, Natasha, et al. “The United States Is Becoming More Racially Diverse – and So Is Rural America.” The Daily Yonder, 6 Oct. 2021, https://dailyyonder.com/the-united-states-is-becoming-more-racially-diverse-and-so-is-rural-america/2021/09/30/.
[2]This section is inspired in part by “Rural Organizing in This Pivotal Time,” by Rhonda Perry (Missouri Rural Crisis Center) and Mark Schultz (Land Stewardship Project), May 2017. https://eofnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2019

Contributors to this report include the following organizations and individuals:

Contributing Organizations

With Special Thanks To

Lauren Bealore
Michael Charmeides
Sunila Chilukuri
Siena Chrisman
Dãnia Davy
Jennifer Driver
Anthony Gad
Frank Carlos Guzman Jr.
Chris Hunt
Carly A. Johnson

Kendra Kimbirauskas
Fran Linkin
Carmen Lopez
Patty Lovera
Emma Newton
Alexis W. Phillips
Ann Robertson
Brett Tolley
Julia Isaacs Tse

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